Health officials say e-cigarette use is up in Utah

Saturday , September 06, 2014 - 9:51 AM

By Lindsay Whitehurst Associated Press

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — The Utah Department of Health says new survey data show a significant increase in electronic cigarette use among both adults and teenagers.

The long-term health effects of the devices are still unclear.

“The marketers and the producers of this product are selling them like hotcakes,” said Adam Bramwell, a health department spokesman. But “any really quality research takes time. You want long-term studies to really know what these can do to a person’s body over time.”

About 5 percent of Utahns surveyed last year said they used the battery-powered devices that typically heat liquid nicotine into a vapor, compared with about 2 percent the year before.

And of those who use the devices, about 60 percent said they also smoke traditional cigarettes, according to the results of the annual survey of 10,000 Utahns released Thursday.

The survey also found Utah’s smoking rate, which is the lowest in the country, stayed steady at 10 percent.

Those findings cast doubt on whether smokers can use the devices to replace cigarettes, Bramwell said.

Aaron Frazier, director of Utah Vapers, an e-cigarette industry group, said that most of the hundreds of customers he’s dealt with don’t use both; those who do could be trying to get off cigarettes.

“When you look at the continuum of risk, these products are minuscule in comparison,” Frazier said.

But health officials are concerned that more kids are picking up the habit.

The department surveys students every other year, and last year it found more teens reported using e-cigarettes regularly than smoking traditional cigarettes.

About 6 percent of the students in grades eight, 10 and 12 said they’d used e-cigarettes, up from about 2 percent two years ago, according to the survey of about 50,000 students.

The devices could be more attractive to kids than cigarettes because they aren’t as harsh on the throat, and the liquid nicotine that comes in flavors such as cherry cheesecake and Mountain Dew is more appealing than tobacco.

“Whether you are an adult or a teenager, these flavors are tempting,” said Bramwell. “Before you know it, that kid is unwittingly building a nicotine addiction within him, which, in most cases, last an individual’s entire lifetime.”

The health department is calling for more regulation on sellers of the devices and excise taxes to make them too expensive for kids.

Though Frazier contested the idea that higher taxes would keep kids away, citing the already-high starting price of the devices, he said the industry would support licensing sellers and more rules to keep people under 19 out of the shops.

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